Career Path

Career path for high flyers

by Wattie Lo

Flight Attendant
Cheukee Lee
Chief Purser

In the midst of rising unemployment, the job of flight attendant has now come to be seen as a desirable pursuit for many young hopefuls. Earlier this year, some 1,500 job seekers signed up for interviews during an open recruitment campaign organized by Dragonair - a Hong Kong-based airline that has long been recruiting high-quality flight attendants to cope with its ever-expanding fleet and business. While on-going pay cuts and decreasing benefits are associated with many other entry-level occupations, flexible working hours and competitive salaries continue to be the main attractions of becoming a flight attendant today.

"...I finally chose my career as a flight attendant primarily because of the flexibility and attractive salary it offered," says Cheukee Lee, who is currently working as Chief Purser, the highest rank in charge of the flight cabin, with Dragonair.

Ms Lee started off as a receptionist at a major hotel, and joined Dragonair as a flight attendant in late 1988. From then on, her career took off: she subsequently received a series of promotions, moving up quickly to Flight Purser a year later to Senior Purser in 1991 to finally Chief Purser in 1996. She recalls: "The greatest challenge was to overcome my own introversion, while learning how to be friendly to people."

"In the selection process we are most concerned about the hearts and minds of the applicants. While those who lack experience and job knowledge can be trained, those who fall short of the right qualities cannot"

Customer orientation

To become qualified as a flight attendant, applicants need to meet a set of basic requirements, including a minimum Form Five standard, fluent English and Cantonese or Mandarin, and a minimum arm reach of 212 cm. Speaking other Asian languages and dialects or past experience in the service industry is also an advantage.

In addition, the ability to develop a positive, customer-oriented mindset is of paramount importance. "After all, the customer is our boss," she says. "Therefore, it's important we always think of ways to improve the service. To do so, we need not only lavish more attention on external customers but, just as important, on internal customers. It's my belief that if my colleagues are happy, my customers will be happy. As a team leader, I have a responsibility to make this happen."

While education and prior work experience are important, they are not as pivotal as such personal qualities as friendliness, patience and willingness to learn. Ms Lee says: "In the selection process we are most concerned about the hearts and minds of the applicants. While those who lack experience and job knowledge can be trained, those who fall short of the right qualities cannot."

Dragonair provides an eight-week training program for new recruits aiming to develop practical skills and a basic knowledge of the aircraft, first aid, quality service concepts and procedures.

Career prospects

Flight attendants have to be as knowledgeable on the ground as in the air. False impressions often stem from the belief that flight attendants merely serve meals. Ms Lee says there are opportunities for assuming ground responsibilities while continuing to work in the air, serving passengers regularly.

"Many of my colleagues are currently working as so-called 'dual crew', which means that they spend roughly half their working time flying and the rest of it staying in the office," she says. These dual crew perform a wide variety of ground functions including performance appraisal, services design and development, training, recruitment, and so on, and many seize the opportunity to increase overall job experience in anticipation of retirement at age 45, or above.

The experience of working as a flight attendant provides an invaluable foundation for further career building outside the airline industry, with the hospitality field as an obvious option. But Ms Lee cautions that prerequisites for entry to the service industry have been increasingly based on academic achievements. "I know of many colleagues who are now studying either distance-learning or Master's programs, albeit they're working in an unrelated field," she says.

"Although we only require our flight attendants to have a minimum Form Five standard at present, we see many of our applicants now possessing at least a university degree, with some even holding a Master's or Doctorate. I think continuous learning is the only way to stay competitive, and open up new possibilities for career change."

China Opportunities

No doubt China's burgeoning aviation industry has presented a host of opportunities for Dragonair, as the airline is holding rights to many mainland routes.

Despite the continuing growth in China's air transport market, "there hasn't really been a trend of a lot of Hong Kong people seeking employment there as far as the flight attendant position is concerned," says Ms Lee, summing up the possibility of this as "extremely rare" at present.

Chinese carriers do not at present employ foreign nationals on their services, due to the large choice of home-grown talent. However, because of the thorough international-level training, Hong Kong flight attendants are easily able to find employment with Hong Kong-based international airlines other than the two local companies.

Figures provided by Levin Human Resources
Development Ltd.

Taken from Career Times 11 October 2002, p. 28
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